Very close to her brother Gianni, who entrusted her with the artistic direction of Versus in 1994, Donatella Versace took his place three years later, in shock of the assassination of the designer in Miami. Donatella is 42 years old, and her iron determination to keep the brand hype is intact. A real pop character, with her perennial tan, platinum hair, extra size diamonds, superstar friends, she is party-girl perpetually surrounded by supermodels and rock royalties.
What is the origin of your passion for fashion? Beyond Gianni, was there a moment that represented a kind of revelation in which you decided that it was your destiny?
No. After university I joined Gianni in Milan and he started telling me, do this, do that, and, little by little, I found myself working full time. Over time, I started to love what I was doing, being on photo sets, seeing how an idea was transformed into a dress, the excitement of fashion shows, models and celebrities. I was lucky because it was as if Gianni had seen something in me that I hadn't noticed myself and that took me in a completely different direction from what I had imagined.
The '90s the supermodels, then Madonna, Jennifer Lopez ... What do the women of Versace have in common?
Strength, resourcefulness, self-confidence, charisma, the desire to break the rules ... Madonna is unique in the world. We have known each other for a lifetime and have always been friends. From her I learned the strength that comes from firmly believing in what you do: it made me understand the meaning of "never give up" like no other. I like strength, passion, dedication to work that JLo has, but, most of all, I admire her as a human being and as a mother. She is one of the most genuine and beautiful women I have ever known and it makes me so proud whenever she wears a Versace dress.
Which is the dress you're most proud of?
The Jungle dress. I designed it for the S/S 2000 collection and it became iconic - can I say that about something I did? The whole world had the exact same reaction: it was amazed. Millions of people on the internet searched for Jennifer's photo. The Jungle dress went down in history, inspiring the Google team to create a new search tool: Google Images.
What were the key figures for the Versace myth?
It would take an encyclopedia to list them all. Starting from photography geniuses like Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Iriving Penn, Bruce Weber, up to Steven Meisel and Mert and Marcus. The supermodels were born with Gianni when I suggested that they should walk on the catwalk as well as be on the photo sets: Naomi, Cindy, Claudia, Stephanie, Linda, Carla, Kate, Giselle and then going to Gigi and Bella, Kendall, Vittoria, Kaia ... The list is really long, but what unites all these people, who are part of Versace's extended family, is the fact that they have been able to leave a mark in society that goes beyond fashion. At the time they were the real celebrities, whose look you wanted not only to copy, but also to know where they went on vacation ...
What were the most important moments for the brand under your direction?
The Tribute Collection (S/S 2018) certainly represented a turning point for the brand and for me personally. It was a difficult challenge, a path at times painful, but at the same time - liberating. Honestly, I wasn't expecting the success it had, not because I don't trust what I do, but because you're always a bit critical of yourself, especially when you're dealing with the work of a genius. And I can't fail to mention the moment when Jennifer got on the catwalk in September 2019: it was the closing of a circle that started in 2000 that gave me indescribable emotions. The latest F/W 2020 was also a fundamental moment, because, for the first time, we merged the men and women collections together. I made this decision to emphasise more forcefully the values of inclusiveness and equality underlying the Versace DNA.
Fashion is in a moment of great change, it is rethinking seasonality, number of collections, the theme of sustainability is getting stronger ... What are the main changes taking place at Versace?
Many things will have to be reviewed and we are making the first changes. I do not want to unbalance myself in declarations of any kind, because this is truly a delicate moment, a moment that no one before us had lived. We are reconsidering everything, because concepts that were taken for granted up to six months ago now seem meaningless: the seasonality of the collections, how vast a collection should be, what it should include ... If fashion is the mirror of the society, and society has changed, then there will be a change in fashion, too. Sustainability and authenticity will play a fundamental role, as will the digital world.
You have always been committed to the LGBTQ+ community, in the fight against AIDS ...
I believe in the power of change. I believe that we, as human beings and as a society, can build a better world for ourselves and for those who come next, supporting each other, accepting that we are not all the same and that our differences make us unique. Even with the smallest gesture of kindness, we can bring about this change in our lives. We are going through a difficult time and only by staying united can we hope for a brighter future for everyone. We have just rediscovered the importance of being kind to each other, of helping each other, of being a true community. For this reason, I have always supported several associations and, in particular, I am committed to the LGBTQ + community: this year, I celebrated the anniversary of my appointment as the ambassador for equality of LGBTQ + rights, collaborating with Pride Live and Arcigay to support their fight for rights.